EVER SINCE Samsung unveiled its first Galaxy Note phablet in 2011, large-screen smartphones have become increasingly more common in the Android ecosystem.
Despite their popularity with Android users, though, key competitor Apple had so far not released a 5in-plus iPhone, sticking to late founder Steve Jobs' design philosophy that people didn't want giant handsets.
However, this all changed when CEO Tim Cook took to the stage to unveil Apple's first phablet, the 5.7in iPhone 6 Plus.
The iPhone 6 Plus lives up to its name and looks like a blown-up version of the iPhone 6. In our mind this is not a bad thing. Featuring a rounded glass front that runs round the sides of its curved aluminium chassis, the iPhone 6 Plus looks just as great as the iPhone 6.
Additionally, despite being larger, the iPhone 6 Plus is surprisingly thin, measuring in at a modest 7.1mm. This means despite being large it should still be reasonably comfortable to hold.
Packing a 5.5in 1920x1080 resolution Retina HD display, the iPhone 6 Plus still lags behind the displays on its top-end Android competitors on paper. For example the LG G3 boasts an equivalently sized but much sharper 5.5in, 1440x2560 resolution, 534ppi True HD-IPS+ LCD capacitive touchscreen.
However, considering past Retina displays' stellar colour balance and vibrancy levels, we're going to reserve judgement on the iPhone 6 Plus's screen and wait until our full hands-on review before giving our definitive verdict.
Like its smaller sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus runs Apple's iOS 8 mobile operating system. However, keen to showcase the benefits of the iPhone 6's largest display, Apple has added a few novel features designed to make it more pleasant to use in horizontal mode.
For example, the iPhone 6 Plus's Messaging and Email apps have a special two-tier horizontal user interface and separate keyboard with special keys for actions such as cut and paste.
Past its additional horizontal services, iOS 8 comes loaded with a number of useful features, many of which are aimed at the enterprise. Key additions on this front include improved password security, S/MIME features and VIP threads, and support for Microsoft Exchange out of office replies.
OS X Continuity is another useful feature debuted on iOS 8. Continuity is the latest stage in Apple's ongoing work to converge its iOS and Mac OS X operating systems and offers users a variety of synchronisation features. One of the most useful of these is the ability to Airdrop files between the iOS and Mac OS devices.
iOS 8 also adds support for third-party keyboards such as Swype, the ability to add widgets to the Notification Center and a Quicktype word-prediction feature.
As a final bonus iOS also has Healthkit and Homekit services. Healthkit is designed to help users track their calorie intake and exercise routines, while HomeKit is an Internet of Things-focused service designed to let users control appliances using their iPhone 6.
Like the smaller iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus is powered by Apple's new 64-bit A8 chip and reworked next generation M8 co-processor.
Apple claims the A8 offers 25 percent faster CPU performance and 50 percent faster graphics performance than the A7. If true, this makes it 50 times more powerful than the first iPhone.
Apple also said the M8 co-processor can measure elevation and can tell when you're cycling, walking or running, meaning fitness apps should perform better on it than on competing Android handsets or previous iPhones. If the iPhone 6 Plus lives up to Apple's claims, it could be one of the fastest on the market when it is released.
NFC and Apple Pay
Near-field communication (NFC) has been a key technology missing on past iPhones. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus fix this issue and come with an NFC antenna. However, rather than just giving users access to existing NFC services, such as Visa's V.me payment service, or Paypal, Apple has created its own Apple Pay platform.
Apple Pay has an API developers can use to directly integrate the Apple payment option into their websites and apps. Having already scored key partnerships with Visa, Amex and Mastercard, Apple Pay allows users to make and take payments.
As an added assurance to security-conscious iPhone users, Apple has also loaded the iPhone 6 Plus with a Secure Element chip and that stores all the user's payment details locally. This means prying intelligence agencies and hackers should have a harder time getting it.
The iPhone 6 Plus is the first ever iPhone to feature optical image stabilisation technology. This, combined with its new sensor with True Tone flash, 1.5 micron pixels and f/2.2 aperture mean it should offer radically better imaging performance than past iPhones.
For example The sensor adds a number of new or improved features, including phase-detection autofocus, which allows it to focus twice as fast. New tone-mapping, new noise reduction and a new slow-motion mode that can capture video at 240fps.
The iPhone 6 Plus runs using an undisclosed battery that Apple lists as offering the users 11 hours of video playback and WiFi browsing and 10 hours of LTE browsing and 3G browsing as its smaller iPhone 6 sibling. If accurate, the iPhone 6 Plus's battery life will be well above average, with most handsets still struggling to make it past the seven to eight hours of multimedia use mark.
Storage and price
The Apple iPhone 6 Plus will be available with 16GB, 64GB and 128GB storage options, and it will cost £619, £699 and £789 respectively at retail pricing.
If opening impressions are anything to go by, while Apple may be slightly late to the phablet market, its opening device is fairly impressive. Featuring a reworked camera, cutting-edge processor and Apple's latest iOS 8 operating system the iPhone 6 Plus has the on-paper chops to be one of 2014's best plus-sized handsets.
Hopefully the iPhone 6S will make good on its opening promise when it arrives in the UK later this year.
Check back with The INQUIRER later for a full review of the iPhone 6 Plus. µ